Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Overthrowing the Shaykhs: The Trucial States at the Intersection of Anti Imperialism, Arab Nationalism, and Politics, 1952 1966

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Overthrowing the Shaykhs: The Trucial States at the Intersection of Anti Imperialism, Arab Nationalism, and Politics, 1952 1966

Article excerpt

Shaykh Zayed b. Sultan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and first president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), articulated his vision for the new state and its place among other Arab states as he opened the first national parliament of the Union in 1972.1

The constitution aimed for the United Arab Emirates to be a federal state, independent and sovereign. And the Union is a part of the great Arab nation, bound to it by ties of religion, language, history, and shared destiny; and the people of the Union are one people and are a part of the Arab umma and Islam is the official religion of the Union; and Islamic shari'a is the official source of law; and the official language of the Union is Arabic.2

His speech affirmed the UAE's identity as an independent but connected part of the larger Arab world and history.

Since the UAE's establishment, historians have failed to effectively integrate the history of the Trucial States (which preceded the UAE), and indeed the Arab states of the Persian Gulf more generally, into writing about the twentieth-century Arab world. Anecdotally, it is not unusual to hear jokes about how "the UAE is not a real country," both in conversations with people from the Middle East and at academic conferences in the United States and United Kingdom. Indeed, one of the most commonly assigned textbooks in North American universities, William Cleveland's A History of the Modern Middle East, confirms the attitude that the Gulf states have been viewed as "unnatural entities" and relics of British imperialism.3 The subject is certainly due for more serious consideration and greater integration into the literature on Arab and Middle Eastern history beyond the Arab core.

This article examines two case studies of rulers within the Trucial States, Shaykhs Shakhbut b. Sultan al-Nahayan (r. 1928-66) of Abu Dhabi and Saqr b. Sultan al-Qasimi (r. 1951-65) of Sharjah, in the 1950s and 1960s. Both rulers were removed from their positions at the initiative of the British administration in the region. In both cases, British policymakers in the Gulf justified their involvement in these ousters based on concerns that the rulers' activities in their states would foster Arab nationalism and antiimperialism in the region. In the case of Shakhbut, British administrators were concerned that he was not sufficiently proactive in following British recommendations for civil and economic development and the delays would leave Britain vulnerable to anti-imperialist criticism. Saqr, however, scared British policymakers when he actively courted the Arab League, as well as other organizations that professed anti-imperialist sentiments, for financial aid and technical support from the Arab League and other organizations that professed anti-imperialist sentiments. In both cases, Arab nationalism was an important phenomenon among the populations of the Trucial States, even if particularly filtered through British fears.

Over the last twenty years, scholarship on the Arabian Peninsula has led to valuable contributions. Political scientists have elaborated on how oil rents influence the relationship between the ruling classes and public bids for political participation.4 Anthropologists have studied the ways in which rapid development and urbanization have created a sense of dislocation from and yearning for "traditional," or pre-oil, aspects of life in in the Trucial States. Such examples include the works of Sulayman Khalaf on camel racing and national dress, or the more recent work of Jane Bristol-Rhys, comparing women's cross-generational perspectives on marriage, employment, and education, among other subjects.5 Other works have focused on the rise of Gulf cities as places of political and cultural interaction and development.6 These works, among others, provide insight into the culture, history, and politics of the Arabian Peninsula.

Broad gaps nevertheless remain in our understanding of how these states fit into the larger narrative of histories of the Arab world. …

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